This is a column I wrote more than 20 years ago when I used to let the chips fall in every direction. It about something a county elected official said in relation to polluted waters caused by hog farm mishaps or municipal waste. One incident in Onslow County, North Carolina led to a hog . . . stuff spill of gargantuan proportions — more than 20 million gallons into a local river. A member of the Onslow County Board of Commissioners became angry because a scientist at N.C. State questioned the safety of swimming or eating seafood from the river due to the high amount of fecal sediment (read crap) on the river bottom caused by wastewater treatment plants and hog lagoon disasters. The sediment, rich in fecal coliforms, could be stirred up by most any disturbance really. The commissioner said publicly at a hearing about the water’s safety that he would recommend shutting these scientists up. “I’d like to take a rubber hose to some of them,” he said. Ahhh, the freedom of expression a point of contention even then.
So here’s the column I wrote back then for the Jacksonville Daily News, a riff on a “Saturday Night Life sketch starring Steve Martin about the questionable practices of a medieval barber. This is a reminder to myself that I used to give elected officials a lot more hell than I do now. I need to go medieval every so often.
It’s time for another episode of “Theodoric of Onslow, Medieval Commissioner” — with all apologies to the old gang at “Saturday Night Live.”
(Scene opens in room with stone walls and a smoky background. People in tattered clothes are waiting for a town meeting to start. An ox snorts in the corner).
VOICE OF TOWN CRIER: “All hail Theodoric, Commissioner of Onslow!”
THEODORIC: “Thank you Town Crier and greetings citizens. I’ll start with a brief statement then I’ll take your questions.
“As you all know, for many years the governing fathers have looked to words and actions passed down from generations for guidance in matters of state. We now know that this is wrong. From this day forward we will find knowledge in trees. The oak will provide wisdom because of its strength. The pine will yield compassion because of its flexibility.
“In this way we can better take Onslow through the Dark Ages predicted long ago when our wise founding fathers discovered that birds cause rainfall.
“That is all. I will now take questions.”
HENRIK OF HAW BRANCH: “Theodoric, I am troubled by what I see on the Great Waterway. It smells as do the sewers and the fish seem to prefer the land. Is our Great Waterway safe?”
THEODORIC: “I am assured by those who frequently gaze at water that the Great Waterway is perfectly safe and that even though the fish caught there smell of the dung heap, there is no danger.”
PROFESSORIC of RALEIGH: “Excuse me sir, but could there not be a hazard on the Great Waterway’s bottom? Coult it be that the human and animal waste that is placed there could collect into an amount greater than the stars in the sky? And could this not be the root of disease and other problems that may cause ruin to our health and prosperity? Should we not look into this further?”
THEODORIC: “I don’t think I know you. Identify yourself and explain why you are needlessly frightening these good people.”
PROFESSORIC OF RALEIGH: “I am a biologist, a scientist of great waterways and the creatures there. I’ve studied the Great Waterway using scientific method. I warn you all that there is a potential for danger.”
THEODORIC: “A SCIENTIST!!! Who is a scientist to say whether our Great Waterway is fit for use. Silence this scientist and I will conduct my own test using the ox in the corner. If its tail spins clockwise, the Great Waterway is safe. If its tail spins counter-clockwise, the Great Waterway is doomed.”
(Everyone watches the ox for two days.)
THEODORIC: “INCONCLUSIVE! The Great Waterway is heretofore clean. This scientist shall be banished.”
HENRIK OF HAW RIVER: “Wait a minute. For years we in Onslow have toiled at low-paying jobs while watching other lands prosper and grow. We’ve watched our children struggle in schools too poor to provide quality sun dials and seen our women exploited in tawdry flesh palaces. Isn’t it time to admit that you don’t know what you’re talking about?”
THEORDORIC: “Hmmm, perhaps you’re right. We could invite scientists and other experts from all walks of life to our land so we can gain insight and knowledge that will enable us to grow and prosper as our neighbors have prospered. It could be a rebirth, a Renaissance . . .
FADE TO BLACK